Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sun sets on Trudeau's relationship with a certain broadcaster

So, Justin Trudeau isn't talking to Sun Media reporters, or opinionators, or whatever other categories of people they employ, until the organization apologies for a ridiculous Ezra Levant segment I don't care to describe -- suffice it to say it was a highly offensive personal attack not just on him, but his family.

The press gallery, apparently confident that their condemnation of Levant's bloviating is so obvious it need not really be vocalized, instead lept straight to the hustings of journalistic freedom. Much furious tweeting amongst themselves ensued; how dare Trudeau do this, and so on. We've seen the pattern often enough when the Harper Conservatives have curtailed media access -- much tweet and fury, followed by filing straight copy of the government's news of the day.

I have stood with the gallery in the past, although, while I admit there are no easy answers, their acquiescence long ago sent the message to the government, and other parties, that shutting out or limiting the media will not have lasting consequence. It pains me as a democrat, and as a journalist, but it's the sad reality.

While I stand for access, and I'm not sure I'd have taken the step of a blanket ban on talking to Sun Media employees until a resolution on the Ezra complaint, I'd wish some of the journalists on the hustings for press freedom would apply a little of that critical thinking the profession prides itself on, as this isn't a case of a blanket limitation of access to avoid exposure and control the narrative.

Rather, Trudeau's action here raises some questions that we all, media and political operatives, would do well to consider: what is the line between journalist and opinion commentator, and when is enough enough when it comes to a pattern of bias and bile?

There are strong journalists at Sun Media, and many young journalists getting their start. Jobs are tough to find in this industry, and I'm sure many are disgusted by the antics of Ezra et al. They don't have the luxury of quitting on principle, even if they wanted to. Were I them though, I would be angry not at Trudeau, but at my management for perpetuating a culture that makes it harder for me to do the good work I want to do, and be recognized as the professional I strive to be.

For the antics of the opinion whatever side of the house do reflect on the whole organization. There is no Chinese wall. And the argument "that was the opinion side of the company that called your dead father a slut and insulted your mother" just doesn't fly.   Yes, they have the freedom of speech to say whatever offensive thing they want. But politicians also have the freedom to decline to engage with an organization whose management encourages, and profits, from such behaviour.

It's unfortunate they're caught in the middle, but blaming the offended politician here seems offbase. This is the direct, and probably not unintended, result of the type of channel and image Sun's ownership and management set out to create.

And lest we forget, this isn't just about Ezra, or about one incident. And while the hard news/straight talk line may be clung to now, it has has often been hard to see in the past.

The point is, they've allowed the lines to blur. It's not fair to their journalists, and you can forgive the rest of us from needing a program to tell the players sometimes. But it's the reality.

So while I'm a bit uncomfortable at the blanket ban, I understand the reasoning, and I don't really see a better way. I would not want to support an organization that attacked my family either. They have freedom of speech, but that doesn't mean I have to listen.

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Anonymous said...

Sorry but Trudeau and anyone Sun attacks all day should not engage at all. It is not news. It is not journalism. There may be some there, but they gave the journalism part to work there.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this well-written post. Levant's rant did not appear to be opinion piece, but bore a closer resemblance to vile hate propaganda. I have not seen (or heard)any member of the PC Party condemn this piece, and therefore could never accept the theory of the "two sides" of their "media house". There is only one house, and their ownership dictates the image and messages that emanate. While I too understand that some reporters can be hurt by this. They are all adults, and they all know where they work.